Three hours before Tuesday night's game, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak sat in the dugout and talked about how important a player's ability to control the strike zone was to the franchise.
So it's probably safe to say that Klentak didn't approve of reliever Edubray Ramos' work in the top of the 11th inning.
Ramos walked the first two batters of the frame on nine pitches — a gross violation of the control-the-strike-zone ideology — and both quickly turned into runs in the Phillies' 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay).
The game had been tied, 1-1, when the 11th inning began. After Ramos' ugly showing, Casey Fien was lit up for a two-run double, a pair of two-run homers and another RBI double as the Cardinals turned a close game into a laugher.
The Cardinals are a sub-.500 team that has played inconsistently all season. They have just seven wins in June; four have come against the Phillies, baseball's worst team.
The Phils have lost 12 of their last 13. They are 25 games under .500 before the first official day of summer and manager Pete Mackanin admitted that he worries about losing becoming a habit.
"Yeah, I think about that a lot," he said. "The only thing I can think of to change is just continue doing the same type of work we do before the games. We work on every aspect of the game. Rather than get negative, I want to stay positive with the guys. At the same time, let them know we need to do better at every area. So we need to work on fundamentals. Just concentrate on that. You have to hit and you have to pitch."
The Phils got some pitching Tuesday night. Included was Jeremy Hellickson's best start since April and good relief work from Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris and Pat Neshek.
But the hits really weren't there. The Phils had seven hits for the night and all of them were singles. They had just five hits through the first 10 innings. One of the hits was a two-out single from Maikel Franco in the fourth. It drove in the Phillies' only run and it was sort of a gift run as St. Louis starter Mike Leake opened the frame by issuing his only two walks of the game. He pitched six innings of three-hit ball.
As Phillies players arrived at work Tuesday afternoon, they learned that two of their teammates, reliever Jeanmar Gomez and rightfielder Michael Saunders, had been cut from the team for simply not playing well (see story). They were replaced by reliever Hoby Milner and outfielder Cameron Perkins, two longtime farmhands and marginal prospects who had performed well at Triple A this season.
"When you have the worst record in baseball, it's safe to say things haven't gone exactly as planned," Klentak said. "Whether we're winning or we're losing, we're always going to be looking at potential roster moves to make us better. In this case, we're trying to get out of the basement.
"I do think bringing up young players can have a positive effect on teams sometimes. Not to put all the pressure on the two guys we just called up, but injecting some new life into a team could be helpful. But we'll see. That should not be viewed as disparaging toward the two guys we just sent out because both of those guys are really good guys and really good teammates. So, hopefully, this will give us a spark.
"But this has as much to do with winning tonight and winning tomorrow and getting a look at some younger players. We still have some season left to go. It's trying to properly balance the present and the future."
Hellickson was sad to see Gomez and Saunders go.
"I'd rather not speak on that," he said. "Those were two great teammates that I wish could have stuck around a little longer. But that's just how it goes sometimes."
Hellickson, who had a 6.98 ERA in his previous nine starts, made some tweaks to his delivery and pitched seven innings of six-hit, two-walk, one-run ball. If he has a few more starts like that, some team will take him at the trade deadline. Of course, it will help that the Phillies are willing to pay down a big chunk of what remains on his $17 million salary.
"That's not on my mind," Hellickson said of a possible trade. "Getting on a nice little run is definitely on my mind. You know, it's not fun sitting around for four days after a bad start, so I just have to try to fix some things and bear down a little bit and hopefully get on a nice run before the [All-Star] break and get more consistent."
Does Hellickson expect to be traded?
"I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I have no idea. I wish I had an answer for you."